Help me find a great handheld GPS for Geocaching!
September 2, 2009 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to buy a personal handheld GPS unit mainly for hiking and geocaching. Recommend an awesome model for me!

So this fall I intend to do a lot of camping, hiking, trekking and geocaching. I'd like to buy a handheld GPS unit for the geocaching bit.

What's the best around? Garmin? Other brands? Don't want to break the bank (not looking to spend $200+) but I want something that's good quality, good battery life and will hold up well. Something preferably in color would be nice too. Thanks!
posted by PetiePal to Technology (24 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This recent Cool Tools entry suggests the Garmin 60Cx and 60CSx for Geocaching.
posted by laukf at 6:39 AM on September 2, 2009

Quite a few smartphones/cellphones have built-in GPS. That might be another option.
posted by box at 6:40 AM on September 2, 2009

Presumably, you don't own an iPhone 3G (for Geocaching)... for which a solar or crank charger is necessary for long multi-day trips.

For standalone units, Garmin is definitely the class of standalone GPS makers. The build quality is very high, and the sheer number of models means there's probably something perfect for you. The Foretrex 101 is under $100, and while the display is the typical crappy grayscale and the UI won't win any awards, it just plain works, and the 18-hour battery life is sweet, especially considering you can carry two extra AA's pretty easily.
posted by rokusan at 6:41 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a Garmin eTrek Vista HCx, which I love. It's a bit over your price range but they have lower-end models that will work for you.
posted by bondcliff at 6:47 AM on September 2, 2009

We use a slightly older model of the Garmin 60Cx for field work. They are excellent machines.
posted by bonehead at 6:51 AM on September 2, 2009

Response by poster: For how often I'd be going geocaching I figured $200+ might be too much. I don't own an iPhone (not at least until Verizon gets it!) I own a TomTom but of course that's not too conducive to hiking and more for road-use.

I may get an HTC phone in the future when some new ones are released but I doubt they'll have GPS built in. I'll research the few you've suggested. I've heard good things about eTrex.
posted by PetiePal at 6:52 AM on September 2, 2009

(FYI, every HTC phone released since March 2008 (and many before that) has included GPS.)
posted by teraflop at 7:03 AM on September 2, 2009

I got by with the basic yellow Garmin eTrex (their least expensive model) for a long time, for a lot more than just geocaching. It was a good unit that I was happy with, and lasted 7 years but eventually too much ocean water killed it (even many waterproof devices won't stand up to salt water corrosion on the metal connectors).

My replacement was a Garmin 60CSx, which is a very nice unit. For me the biggest advantage is the helical antenna which gets me an accurate signal in thick woods that the eTrex was hopeless in. The other really nice feature is having topo maps on the device (but that's something many less expensive Garmin GPSs, like the Vista, will also do).
posted by Emanuel at 7:03 AM on September 2, 2009

Response by poster: How about the eTrex LegendĀ® HCx ? A little above my pricepoint but the extra features seem warranted:
posted by PetiePal at 7:06 AM on September 2, 2009

Response by poster: @Teraflop Good to know. Wasn't aware all the recent HTC phones had GPS. My Verizon contract is up in January for a new phone so hopefully the HTC Desire, Hero, Magic etc will have Verizon versions out by then.
posted by PetiePal at 7:07 AM on September 2, 2009

We've been geocaching for several years now. We started off with the cheapest Garmin model (the same yellow one that Emanuel mentioned). It worked great! We recently passed that one down to a friend just starting out with geocaching, and upgraded to the eTrex Legend. It has worked very well for us.

You really can't go wrong with any of the Garmin handhelds.
posted by MorningPerson at 7:14 AM on September 2, 2009

I've had a different experience with the etrex legend. I have a really hard time getting signal with any kind of tree canopy at all, and even with clear skies it takes about five minutes to lock on to the satellites. That said, it's awesome for winter hiking in hardwood forests, or for other environments with a clear shot at the sky.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:24 AM on September 2, 2009

I have an eTrex Legend, one of the older models, and it works great. My mother has one of the yellow eTrex units, which are different (lower-res screen, and I hate the data input method, no serial connection). My brother-in-law has one of the newer eTrex Legend units with the high-sensitivity antenna that lets him pick up a position while sitting in the back of his car (which I could never do). My eTrex Legend has a serial port; I think his might be USB.

We geocache a lot. I would buy another eTrex Legend again in a second, and probably will when the current one dies, if they're still available (though the current one is 10 years old now, and still going strong except for the occasional display flicker). It's been dropped, experienced *extreme* vibration for extended periods of time (gets zip-tied to the handlebars of my motorbike for 8+ hour rides), been rained on, been used by toddlers -- it's damn near bulletproof.

Hey, Garmin, how about a kickback? :-)
posted by nonspecialist at 7:34 AM on September 2, 2009

Response by poster: Well Garmin seems to be the manufacturer to go by...I've narrowed down to three models:

Oregon 400c

Oregon 400i

eTrex LegendĀ® HCx
posted by PetiePal at 7:37 AM on September 2, 2009

Whatever you do, stay away from Magellan products. They are currently incompatible with the most popular geocache "management" software, such as GSAK, and their own geocaching software sucks...
posted by bluefrog at 7:47 AM on September 2, 2009

I just got one earlier this year, so I spent a LOT of time researching this. While the Garmins aren't bad, they are OLD and slow compared to some of the new models. The 60 CSx has been out for at least 4 years. I don't know about you but I don't want to pay top dollar for old technology.

But I also didn't want one of the newfangled touch screen ones, or one with a digital camera included, either (these types get a LOT of bad reviews).

Thankfully I found the DeLorme company and their PN-Series line of handheld GPS. I suggest going on their user forum if you have any questions about real-world use of their products. Additionally, they are a VERY responsive company with real people up in Maine who make the software and do tech support (not somebody in India!).

I've had my PN-40 for over 9 months now and DeLorme has released at least 4 free firmware upgrades for it since then (and I'm talking about functionality and improvements, not just bug fixes).

They now have a new PN-30 model that has most of the features of the PN-40 for a lower price. Oh and I almost forgot to mention one of the best features of buying a DeLorme GPS -- they have a $30/year subscription to their map library (satellite images, topo, etc) that is UNLIMITED. If you know about data imagery, you know you can easily spend this much on just 1 square mile of imagery! It is a STEAL.

The PN-Series have firmware and software that integrates directly with making it a breeze to use for caching treks.

Last but not least they support Mac and PC! There are a few things you still can't do on a Mac but they are working hard on it (I'm a Mac user and I can do most of the stuff I really care about). You can always run Parallels and Windows XP for the rest -- it works fine.

You will hear a lot of people say that Garmin is the "one to get" -- but I feel like this is because they have never used a PN-40. Check the links below, look at the videos and demos, download the manual, etc and maybe you will find that the PN-30 or PN-40 will be a good fit for you. I think it will.

Here are some useful links:

PN-Series Handheld GPS

Map Library Subscription


posted by bengarland at 7:58 AM on September 2, 2009

Oh by the way, you can of course get a PN-40 or PN-30 for cheaper than what they list on the DeLorme site. REI, for example, has the PN-40 for $259! (list is $399).

The best thing about REI is that if you buy something and don't like it, you can return it no questions asked for a 100% refund.
posted by bengarland at 8:05 AM on September 2, 2009

And REI has the PN-30 for $199, so this fits within your budget. The only diff between the 40 and 30 is that the 30 does not have the digital compass and barometer that the 40 has. Everything else is the same.
posted by bengarland at 8:09 AM on September 2, 2009

I don't have any recommendations to add but I've been asking myself this same question lately. I'm sorely tempted by the Garmin eTrex Venture HC at REI for $124.99. That price (and the two that bengarland listed) are good until Sept. 7.
posted by natabat at 8:26 AM on September 2, 2009

I bought a PN-20 this spring for $146 (at, and it's been great: heck, I'll pick up another cache or two at lunch today!

It works fine with DeLorme's web browser plugin on my Mac Book Pro to load indivdual caches. (I haven't ponied up for a Premium membership yet.)

Color screen, takes ordinary AA batteries, feels tough enough, and doesn't take long to lock onto the satellites even downtown Providence.

Best of all is that the maps are included. (Take that, Garmin!) Better than best is the $40 or $100 of downloaded imagery from their site that gives you NOAA water charts, satellite/aerial imagery, or USGS quad maps to overlay the builti-in map data.

It routes pretty well (though the improved PN-30 and -40 geberate routes faster): I have used it on several hour-long trips to new places in RI and MN. Like any GPSr, recent construction might make the maps slightly out of date, but after a bit of "Recalulating route..." it picks back up. :7)

I cache several times a month on my lunchbreak or with my kids. My wife has little exposure to GPS receivers and so she wishes it was more like a car-only dashboard unit, but that's not why I bought it.

When they updated the Topo map/routing software, I only paid shipping to get tyhe new version. They update the firmware with new features ofr this uniot which they've backported from the top of the line units. DeLorme is good people, but shop around online for the best deal since they'll support it regardless of which retailer you used.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:36 AM on September 2, 2009

I considered the DeLorme because of the map subscription, but unfortunately it looked to be only US data. An advantage of Garmin is that due to their popularity, there is an active hobbyist community writing software and providing data for them. For example, there are the free Ibycus topo maps for all of Canada put together by university student based on government data.
posted by Emanuel at 9:48 AM on September 2, 2009

I have the Garmin eTrex Legend, and it's been great to us. It has enough features that we're happy with it, but not so many that it's overwhelming. A big plus is that these are tough, tough little critters. We also have a mount so that I can put it in my bicycle or motorcycle. So count this as another vote for the Legend.
posted by azpenguin at 10:54 AM on September 2, 2009

Best answer: The Oregon 400t is a better choice for geocaching as it's loaded with 100k topos while the c and i models are more water-oriented.

With a USB connection and browser plugin (worked for me in Vista 64/Firefox) you can dump caches from directly to the 400t and use its built-in geocaching app.

It's a nice unit with a bright color touchscreen (the only hard button is the power button) and most importantly power is supplied by 2 AA batteries.
posted by llin at 1:00 PM on September 2, 2009

Another vote for DeLorme! (We love our PN-40!)

We spent a month researching GPS devices this spring and we settled on the Delorme PN-40. We were most pleased that we didn't have to pay an additional $150 for the street and topo maps like you do for the Garmins (they say they come with a base map but its only highways and arterial roads.) I think for about $30(onetime registration) we can download tons more map data. I think they offer a lot of perks and better support to stay competative against Garmin who has such a corner on the market they don't have to offer free maps or excellent support.

The PN can download geocaches straight from for true paperless geocaching with clues and hints in hand and because of the true street maps it will direct you to your cache via roads and then via hike once your near. I was even more pleased to learn that it will keep you on the trail in most of our state and regional parks (eg: your near a lake and it tells you to follow the path arround the lake rather than directing you straight across the water.)

We are able to use this as our in car GPS and our geocaching GPS. We used to have an eTrex Legend and it was good for starter geocaching but we would often loose sattalites under light tree cover, so far we haven't had that problem with the PN-40.
posted by thewalrusispaul at 7:58 AM on September 3, 2009

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